UC Merced Connect: Lab waste put to a good reuse

November 13, 2012 

Chemistry professor Jason Hein and his students make a lot of compounds in the lab.

They also make a lot of chemical waste.

But Hein found a way to clean up the waste and reuse it, saving money and helping the environment at the same time.

"I'm very excited about this project," said Dean Juan Meza of the School of Natural Sciences. "This is a perfect example of our faculty's entrepreneurial and innovative spirit. It serves as a model for our campus's commitment to sustainability."

Hein and his students handle many chemicals, but one of the most common is acetone, a solvent used to clean all the glassware used in the synthetic-organic lab.

Used acetone previously was stored in containers elsewhere on campus until a company paid by UC Merced could haul it away. But with a biotech solvent recycler, one 20-liter jug of acetone can last through four to five uses.

"I knew I was going to be one of the biggest polluters," Hein said, "so I wanted to make sure I could do something about it."

In the six months since they began recycling acetone, Hein and his six researchers have saved 65 gallons of acetone, diverted 500 pounds of waste and saved the campus $3,000 in hazardous waste fees. At that rate, the machine will pay for itself in a little more than two years.

"We hope to make this common practice, rather than the exception at UC Merced," Vice Chancellor for Research Sam Traina said. "Not only does this allow us to contain our research cost and advance our sustainability agenda, it is also an excellent example to our graduate student researchers on the practical use of 'best practices' in the research lab. This will serve them well when they leave UC Merced and set up research labs or chemical businesses of their own."

Climate change means more extreme weather

California isn't going to face a superstorm like Hurricane Sandy because the Pacific Ocean is too cold to feed that kind of weather system.

But that doesn't mean California won't see extreme weather, say UC Merced researchers.

"We can see very big storms, and there are a couple of issues related to climate change to think about," said Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. "Most of our biggest storms are snowstorms, which build up snowpack in the mountains.

"But if you warm the climate," he said, "those storms become rain events -- there's more immediate runoff, less water storage, and the rain will actually melt some of the existing snowpack."

While scientists say it's impossible to attribute a single storm to climate change, the overall weather patterns across the United States are changing as the oceans warm.

UC Merced researchers repeatedly have pointed out that California is likely to experience an increase in wildfires, for example, because of warmer temperatures.

UC Merced Connect is a collection of news items written by the University Communications staff.

To contact them, e-mail communications@ucmerced.edu.

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service